Menu
Jan 21 2011

TO THE IMMORTAL MEMORY OF ROBERT BURNS 1759 – 1796

, Writing , ,

By Mary Elizabeth Dent

When I first agreed to give this toast, I was not aware that it is seldom given by a female, but as a long time admirer of the work of Robert Burns and a charter member of the Robert Burns Society of Annapolis, Ltd., I really wanted to share why I personally am charmed by this rustic poet. 

Robert Burns was born 251 years ago this coming Tuesday, into a family struggling to make ends meet on a farm near Alloway, Ayrshire, in the lowlands of Scotland.  I doubt his parents ever expected that three centuries later, thousands of folks, the world over would annually celebrate the birth anniversary of their son. 

While only two books of Burns’ poetry were published during his lifetime.  The first, known as the Kilmarnock Edition, sold 612 copies and netted only 20 pounds profit for Burns. The second book is estimated to have sold over 6000 copies, though Burns had little profit from the sale of his work.  At that time British copyright laws did not extend outside Great Britain. Writers were expected to have solicited subscribers in advance of printing as well as supply the paper and not all printers were known for their scruples.

Even so, Burns was acclaimed by the “literati” of Edinburgh even though viewed as a “rustic” by his fellows.  Never-the-less at his funeral the attendance was said to have been 10,000! 

As a child my grandmothers read and recited Burns poems to me, my siblings, and cousins so that legacy became a part of my fabric and brings me memories of beloved persons and places.  Then, in college, I studied Burns in Literature class and was wooed with the songs of Robert Burns. 

This past October while I was in Scotland a pilgrimage seemed in order. A friend and I made an opportunity to visit Alloway.  We traveled by ferry, train and bus to get there with the goal of visiting the new 21 million pound Robert Burns Birthplace Museum which replaces the Burns National Heritage Park.  You can imagine our dismay when we arrived to find that, after many delays, the museum featuring over 5000 artifacts and original manuscripts, was not ready to be open until today.

Needless to say, I was disappointed to have missed the chance to view the letters and artifacts associated with Robert Burns, but we did have an opportunity to visit the refurbished birthplace museum, the Auld Alloway Kirk grounds, to walk along the garden path and visit the Burns monument and the Brig o’ Doon before catching the bus back to Ayr for the last train to Prestwick.

All these places are part of the National Trust of Scotland’s effort to capitalize on the “brand name” of Robert Burns.  In the gift shop we saw all manner of artifacts, pencils, coloring books, shortbread boxes, CD’s, booklets, key chains, tea towels, bracelets, earrings, hankies, etc, etc., etc. all featuring a likeness of Robert Burns. 

After Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, Robert Burns has more statues dedicated to him around the world than any other non-religious figure.  Even Coca-Cola Corporation in 2009 honored Burns with a commemorative bottle.  The first time they ever used the likeness of a person on their product.

Why such an effort?  Andrew O’Hagen in “A Night Out with Robert Burns” feels it is because Robert Burns “….represents the ….romantic spirit of the common man the world over.” “…he is now an icon for strong general feelings, universally understood ….the world has made him somebody by seeing him as nobody, it has sought to make a place for him as a man of men…

a Man’s a Man for a’ That”

That the humble white washed cottage with its clay walls and thatched roof built on 7 ½ acres of farmland would one day become a place of pilgrimage, doubtless never entered the minds of William Burnes nor that of his wife, Agnes Brown, on the cold January day in 1759, when their first child was born in the farmhouse kitchen. A kitchen which today is visited by thousands of persons each year who stand in quiet awe at what has become to so many - a revered place. 

What is it about this country boy that endears him to so many people?  What causes thousands of us to part with our hard earned money, to come together with others all over the world to remember him with song, good food and poetry?  I have certainly asked myself this question over the past 34 years or so. 

Although Robert’s mother was illiterate, Burns’ father was determined that his children be educated so Robert was schooled. At first a tutor came to the house where a room was set aside for class.  There Robert and his brother were grounded in English, mathematics, science and some French.  Robert Burns would not be considered uneducated! 

He was in fact a prolific letter writer and because so many of his letters were preserved, historians have much insight to the man. He was after all a bit of a local celebrity in his lifetime so his letters were considered by some as worth preserving.

We must also remember that during the eighteenth century the ART of soul baring correspondence was a popular pastime (it being before all the electronic distractions of our own time). In the absence of face to face contact, letter writing was the only other means of communication. 

One of Burns’ letters to his Clarinda, reads,

Oh Love and Sensibility, ye have conspired against my Peace! I love to madness and I feel to torture!....Oh, did you love like me, you could not deny or put off a meeting with the man who adores you; - who would die a thousand deaths before he would injure you; and who must soon bid you a fond farewell!

I would say those are pretty persuasive words.  He then enclosed these poignant, wrenching words from Aye Fond Kiss ,

But to see her was to love her
Love but her and love for ever….

Had we never lov’d sae kindly
Had we never lov’d sae blindly,
Never met – or never parted –
We had ne’er been broken hearted.

Such ardor would be hard to resist.

Burns was never a success in conventional terms, he was never wealthy, and he even said of himself, “God knows I am no saint; I have a whole host of follies and sins to answer for.” 

He confided in his journal:

I don’t know what is the reason of it but somehow or other, though I am, when I have a mind, pretty generally beloved, yet I never could get the art of commanding respect:  I imagine it is owing to my being deficient in what Sterne calls, ‘that understrapping virtue of discretion.’  I am so apt to a lapsus linguae, that I sometimes think the character of a certain great man I have read of somewhere is very much a-propos to myself – that here was a compound of great talents and great folly.

 

For all his folly, Robert Burns touches our souls and wrings our hearts with his songs and his poetry.

When asked for the source of his greatest creative inspiration, the American music legend, Bob Dylan selected “A Red, Red Rose”.

Even pop musician, Michael Jackson is said to have been working on the concept of an album featuring Burns’ poetry and songs.

In all over 400 songs which still exist are attributed to Burns..  Three words Auld Lang Syne are recognized the world over even where the meaning of the words is not understood!  It has been translated into every language. 

In Bangkok and Beijing it is so ubigquitous as a song of togetherness and sad farewells, that they presume it must be an old Thai or Chinese folksong!

 In fact, Chinese resistance fighters during World War 2 adopted a translation of Burns’ “My Heart’s in the Highlandsas their marching song.

It has been said that only the works of the Bible and William Shakespeare rival those of Robert Burns for meaningful, memorable lines.  All come from his 559 published poems and songs.

How many times, when we hear of dreams not being fulfilled, do we shake our heads and say,

“The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley.” ?

On the way out of the theater after seeing Mel Gibson’s movie, Braveheart, my son and I could not refrain from linking arms as we marched out singing what is often referred to as the Scottish National Anthem.  “Bruce to his Men at Bannockburn” was one of Burns’ expressions of his own Scottish patriotism.

Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led

Welcome to your gory bed,

Or to victorie!

Now’s the day, and now’s the hour:
See the front of battle lour
See approach proud Edward’s power___
Chains and slaverie!

We turned a head or two on the way out to the parking lot at the Harbor Center, and we knew this song was about the Battle of Bannockburn and Edward II, not Edward I, as in the movie, but that did not matter. Our emotions echoed what Burns had written to a friend explaining how he felt compelled to compose that ode, “So may God ever defend the cause of truth and liberty as He did that day. Amen.”  And we say , “Amen” too.

As a life long admirer of Burns, Abraham Lincoln is thought by some to have been strongly influenced in his effort to abolish slavery by “The Slave’s Lament”

It was in sweet Senegal that my foes did me enthrall
For the lands of Virginia-ginia O;
Torn from that lovely shore and must never see it more,

And alas, I am weary, weary – O!

All on that charming coast is no bitter snow and frost,
Like the lands of Virginia-ginia – O;
There streams forever flow, and there flowers forever blow,
And alas, I am weary, weary-O!

The burden I must bear, while the cruel scourge I fear;
In the lands of Virginia-ginia – O;
And I think on friends most dear with a bitter, bitter tear.
And alas, I am weary, weary-O!

So five years after his death in the year 1801, The Greenock Ayrshire Society, a charitable organization whose members included some 40 men living and working in the area, (some who had actually known Robert Burns), aimed to encourage people to read the poet’s work and sing his songs and to foster national pride.  To accomplish this aim, they gathered on January 25, 1802, for a supper to honor the birth of Robert Burns.  In time the club appointed an honorary president to propose a toast to the Immortal Memory, in an “articulate, erudite and entertaining way.” 

That task has been my distinct pleasure tonight. Thank you for this honor.

I humbly join  the likes of Oliver Wendell Holmes,  J.M. Barrie, Lord Byron, and even Ralph Waldo Emerson who in 1859 said about Burns’ work:

His muse and teaching was common sense, joyful, aggressive, and irresistible.  Not Latimer, nor Luther struck more telling blows against false theology than did this brave singer.  The Confession of Augsburg, the Declaration of Independence, the French Rights of Man, and the “Marsellaise,” are not more weighty documents in the history of freedom than the songs of Burns.

I could not agree more, Mr. Emerson!

So in the spirit of the common man (and woman), for liberty, freedom and above all honesty, let us stand, raise our glasses and drink a toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns!

Care to Comment?


Jul 8 2010

What is wrong with airing the UK version of (fill in the blank)?

, Entertainment , ,

I am tired of hearing this question. It is really starting to aggravate me hearing folks whine about how much better the UK versions of TV shows are and how the US "always" manages to screw up UK shows by making their own versions.

It simply isn't true. Granted, recently there have been some pretty awful adaptations of UK shows.  Life on Mars springs immediately to mind.  But who would argue that The Office (which has run more than twice as long as the UK version with more than twice as many episodes per season I might add) is worse than the UK-aired version?  

Who, would argue that Steptoe and Son is worse than Sanford and Son or that All in the Family is inferior to Till Death Do us Part?  Humor is fundamentally cultural, so there are real arguments to be made for both Three's Company vs Man About The House.  The simple truth is that some fine US versions of UK shows have been made.

But the real question is why aren't they airing the UK versions, not why are the remaking them for US audiences.  There are three very good reasons WHY (say that last word with a whiney plaintitive voice to get the way I always hear it from people): 

  1. Money
  2. Distribution
  3. Market

Money: If you take something from another country and air it here, you have to renegotiate the money to the original actors, writers, producers, and in some cases, the country itself (the BBC is a government agency).  This means that you make less money than you would than if you licence the concept from the creators.  The creators (not the BBC) own the creative property.  If they are willing to sell, then you pay once and then you keep all the rest of the money it makes.  Doing it the other way you make a lot less and can't use Hollywood accounting.

Distribution:  In most cases if the other version is popular then it is being shipped tocountries all over the world.  The UK shiips programs to Canada, Australia and New Zealand becasue their national broadcasting agencies are affiliated with the BBC.  BBCAmerica is a private corporation which can licence properties from the BBC at a fixed rate, but they STILL pay.  And for popular shows it isn't cheap.  If another US network wants it they have to outbid BBCAmerica. If BBCAmerica wants to up the ante, the other network is out of luck.  So from the get-go there is a minimum deal that will have to be made.  For a cable network that isn't always economical.

Secondly if the show is airing simultaneous in the US and the UK, the US will almost certainly have to have it delayed (two weeks for Doctor Who) so the UK is forced to get it from the BBC.  This is so the BBC can justify its annual TV Licence to the Brits.  If they could download or stream it (you know they will) for free, then they would have a hard time justifying paying for it.  This is why HBO will never buy a UK show.  Never.  

Market: UK shows are not sold by "seasons".  They are sold by "series".  A Series can be anywhere from 3 to 15 episodes (and even that isn't consistent). It is sold as a whole self-contained show.  It is produced and then aired.  If it is popular, the BBC commissions another series. They specify how much they are willing to pay and the producers tell the BBC how many episodes they can produce for that amount.

One of my favorite UK shows, The IT Crowd, has 6 episodes per series.  Another favorite, The Thick of It, had 3 episodes for the first two series, 3 stand-alone specials, a feature film, then 8 episodes for the third series. American TV can't deal with that kind of schedule. Coincidentally, a US version of The Thick of It hasn't been picked up by ABC or HBO.

Our current system uses two seasons (Fall and Spring) of 26 weeks each.  Most TV shows produce 22-25 episodes per season and then air once per year.  Some networks are experimenting with half-seasons of 13 episodes aired once or twice a year as a way to control expenses.  But without at least 13 episodes "in the can" per series/season the system can't sustain itself. US Advertisers aren't willing to pay for only 6-8 shows of exposure.

SO. There it is.  Those are the reasons.  And now that you know you aren't going to stop complaining are you?  What you really want is more UK episodes.  Or you want US producers and writers who "get it" better than they have.  Or you want the US to produce some original content for a change. Please, for the sake of my peace of mind, if you wish to complain , compain about the right thing.

 

Care to Comment?


More Articles

  • Oh God, oh God, we're all going to dine!

     For those who have been waiting to hear it, YES! There will be a Third Annual
    Browncoats Backwoods Bash. It will be held on Saturday, September 18th, from
    11am-??. The location will be the Butternut Shelter at SpringMill State Park,
    just south of Mitchell, IN on SR60. The shelter is just a few hundred yards from
    The Pioneer Village, which will have an exhibit of old-timey crafts and lots of
    19th century style music and dance. Admission to the Park is $5 per carload, but
    the Bash is, of course, FREE!

    Invite YOURSELF to the Facebook Event Page! 

    Learn about the Southern Indiana Browncoats

    Posted: · Author:

  • All over the interwebs the fanboys are wailing about Wonder Woman.  They have changed her costume!  She no longer looks like Lynda Carter's Wonder wman from the 70's. Her classic look has forever vanished from the world and we will never more be able to see her legs in that bathing-suit tunic!Fer the love of Pete!  Get over it!

    Posted: · Author:

  • This list is in reference to a checklist posted on IO9 about 50 questions that need to be answered by LOST. As part of this article I'm going to refer to this VENN diagram.

    Spheres of Influence

     Okay, here goes with my take on some of the questions on this list:

    Posted: · Author:

  • Posted: · Author:

  • Posted: · Author:

  • Heather's "Farpoint 2010 Charity Strip Off" comic from Farpoint 2010 was featured at the Interrobang website.  Check it out!

    Posted: · Author:


  • « Older Posts